Better planks, downward dogs & pushups by NOT following the rules

Let’s talk rules. Or at least, movement cues and suggestions that may come across as rules.

Here’s one:
When you set up for a plank, downward dog or push up, place your hands flat on the floor, middle fingers pointing forward, thumbs pointing in towards each other AND externally rotate your shoulders and arms so your elbow pits are pointing forward. AND keep your shoulder blades wide and stable on your back.
These are all great cues, and important parts of a well- executed move. 
But here’s the thing… not everyone can do all those things at the same time.
In fact LOTS of people can’t do all those things at the same time!
As we head into the new year, there are a lot of rules going around. Lots of new year’s resolutions about progressing, and doing things better, doing things right.
And that often leads to mid-February blues of stopping the movement intentions or sore spots that have been over-worked, or worked in ways they just weren’t ready for.
I know the rules can be comforting, but blanket suggestions, cues or rules just don’t match up to every body on the mat!
Here’s my suggestion instead.
Pick one thing to work on. Observe how your body moves naturally, see where your tensions are. What are your existing movement, mobility and stability patterns. See how changing that one thing affects everything else.
Once you’ve explored that, move on to another part.
Is it fun and exciting? Well…. maybe not so much as deciding to learn how to do parkour. But it will make learning parkour more accessible and sustainable in the long run for sure!
Start with your hands strong and flat. Ask questions.
  • How does it feel to put your hands flat on the floor? Can you get them flat?
  • Are your fingers flat too?
  • Can you get your middle fingers pointing forward?
  • How close to a 90 degree angle can you create with your thumbs (hint, if you use a phone or computer the answer might be not very close at all).
  • How do your wrists feel?
  • Can you get pressure evenly across your hands and finger tips? Or do you tend to lean all your weight into your wrists?

So there’s a lot to explore here before you even get past your hands!

If you feel like there’s some work to be done to get to point where your hands are strong and comfortable then work on that first. Don’t worry about the external rotation yet!

Let’s look at the external rotation/elbow pits pointing forward cue.

This is a great part of the work and helps to strengthen your shoulders and arms, introduce some novel loads and unpack your typical shoulder patterns. But here’s the thing…

There’s a connection from your hands to your shoulders. They affect each other.

If your hands are tight (which they probably are, given our modern lifestyles), and you have them anchored to the floor, they limit how far your shoulders can go. And your forearms. And your elbows.

So if you keep your hands planted AND go for the elbow pits forward, things might not feel so great!

If they do, and you feel strong, confident and competent, awesome. Go for it.

If not, break the rules. Allow your hands to release their tension as much as you need to get that turn of your arm in your shoulder socket and spin of your arm and forearm.

Then you can focus on building the awareness of external rotation, the strength and mobility of your shoulder joint and rotator cuff. The stability of your shoulder blades. All the other components of your strong position WITHOUT causing pain, strain or distress in your hands!

The goal is to create sustainable change. Change in your strength, your mobility and your own awareness of how your body moves.

That gives YOU control of your body, your movement and your workout.

It’s not fast, it requires thought and patience, a curious mind and an eye to the long game. But when the long game is a body that loves to move and a brain that knows how to make that happen, isn’t it worth a little extra time and attention?

Go for it. Celebrate 2021 by honouring your own needs and breaking some rules!

Movement teachers, are you looking for ways to support your cueing? To foster this kind of exploration and empower your students with knowledge and agency? Check out my free guide to online cueing (lots of it is super helpful for in person teaching as well)! xo Alison 

Alison Crouch

I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.

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